Frustrated residents walk out of PHA community meeting in Germantown

As a group of young boys played basketball at the Wissahickon Playground, which will soon disappear as part of the Queen Lane Apartments site demolition, dozens of residents met with Philadelphia Housing Authority officials nearby in the Mt. Moriah Church basement.

Some didn’t meet for long, though.

Nearly half the crowd left midway through the PHA’s presentation. Among them was long-time resident Karleetha Brooks, who had a few choice words for an agency which she says is not being transparent about the project.

“It’s a psychological game to make the homeowners within the community feel like they have input when they have no power,” she said of the meetings scheduled over the next few months to update the community about the demolition and redevelopment on the site.

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They feel snubbed

For her part, Brooks said she wants PHA to focus on the future plans rather than talk about community programs at these public meetings, which is what the agency set out to do last Thursday.

“It was supposed to be about the process, about what they are doing across the street with the building and where the children are going to play without a playground, not about them having homeownership programs for PHA residents,” she said. “Every time we try to voice our opinion, or ask a question about what we want to know, they say, ‘That’s at another meeting.’ They push us off like we’re kids.”

Lisa Hopkins, community liasion for the Northwest Neighbors of Germantown group, concurred.

“They bring up the topic of homeownership, but they’re not going to provide homeownership within the new development,” Hopkins explained. “We kind of want to have a mixed community of both renters and homeowners so we know they will take care of the property.”

Many issues for discussion

PHA maintained that the tax credits being used for the project specify rentals only. In response to concerns about the meeting structure, Yolanda Harris, who is PHA’s community services coordinator for the Northwest, said there are larger questions than those just focused on construction plans.

“We’ve gotten three letters for people who were interested in services, so we want to be responsive to everyone, not just people interested in construction,” Harris said.

To that end, PHA representatives shared information about elder-care services and various programs offered to PHA residents.

Meanwhile, PHA General Manager of Community Development and Design Michael Johns explained authority officials will soon meet with community organizations like the Germantown Historical Society and Northwest Neighbors about preservation plans for the historic Potter’s Field on the site near Chelten Avenue and West Queen Lane.

PHA responded to vocal concerns about building atop the historic African American burial ground and agreed not to do so earlier this year. How it will be commemorated is still being figured out, though.

Fences are coming

By next week, the entire site will be closed off to the public, Johns said. An archeologist will use ground-penetrating radar to gain more information about any “resources” underground.

“They want to hear the anecdotal comments from the residents that were here when the high rise was built, if anybody can remember anything related to when the ground was open at one time,” Johns said after the meeting.

The next public meeting will be held at Mt. Moriah Church on Thursday night. There, an archeologist retained by PHA will answer questions from the community.

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